A BOLTON pantomime producer defrauded rugby fans out of tens of thousands of pounds selling non-existent tickets for a Lions tour of Australia.

The scam was one of a string of fraudulent activities Michael Hizer involved himself in over a period of four years, Bolton Crown Court was told.

Hizer, who was married to former Coronation Street actress Casey-Lee Jolleys, is currently serving a four year jail term at Thameside prison in London after being found guilty of taking part in a £1 million VAT fraud.

Between October 2010 and September 2012 Hizer was part of a gang which set up fake companies and produced false invoices and contracts with the aim of reclaiming VAT which had never been paid.

But Nicholas Clarke, prosecuting, said that while he was on bail for the offence he became involved in a second scam.

Between March and June 2013 Hizer, of Redwood Close, Darcy Lever, also became involved in setting up a website selling tickets for the British Lions tour to Australia that year.

Unsuspecting fans were swindled out of a total of £77,480 after purchasing non-existent tickets from the Rugby-Lions-Tickets.com website.

Hizer had set up a virtual office in London, paid the lease on it and used his own bank accounts to launder the money.

Following his arrest he was bailed again only to involve himself in a third scam which saw people conned into paying for "insurance" on the sale of fictional carbon credits they believed they had bought.

Hizer set up a bank account in the name of UK Event Management which was used to launder money handed over by the customers and 23 victims who gave statements to police were said to have lost a total of £67,368.72.

Mr Clarke told the judge, Recorder Ahmed Nadim, that the rugby ticket fraud was a sophisticated enterprise requiring a lot of planning.

But the prosecution could not say 56-year-old Hizer was responsible for setting up the website.

Mr Clarke said: "He is someone who is taking the fall. There are other people who are involved in this."

Hizer, whose former company, Halle Productions Ltd, staged seasonal pantomimes, pleaded guilty to fraud, converting criminal property and transferring criminal property in relation to the ticket scam and further counts of converting and transferring criminal property in the carbon credit fraud.

Jaime Hamilton, defending, said Hizer had become involved in the ticket and carbon tax frauds after borrowing cash from a loan shark — money which he then struggled to repay.

And he added that Hizer had been coerced into committing the crimes.

The case was adjourned until March 24 to allow the defence time to produce evidence of the pressure they allege Hizer was subjected to before the final sentence is passed.